In an era of dubious secular holidays, entire months set aside for celebrations of sin, and lackluster heroes, there is rightful skepticism about such events as Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. It certainly seems odd that the people who struggle to define a woman also set aside time for the celebration thereof. Yet a closer look at such events reveals something shocking: they’re not celebrating women or femininity at all.
The accomplishments they showcase are when women act as men, or at least when they are not embracing the feminine. Whether women are being lauded (and infantilized) as place kickers in football games or promoted for their entry into combat units, or it’s “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” there’s nothing distinctly feminine about any of it. The rarity with which woman’s true femininity gets even a passing nod shows just how insidious the problem is.
Within these celebrations, women are frequently complimented for their workplace contributions, which are not really contingent on them being women. Are women to be acknowledged only when acting in historically male spaces, and if so, why does there need to be acknowledgment at all? Those male spaces have long since merely become human places, and there is nothing gender-specific to note.
In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to women in which he hailed female dignity. His view of women, and the Church’s view, bears little resemblance to the vacuous messages promoted in popular culture today:
In all these areas a greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way that favors the processes of humanization which mark the “civilization of love.”
One of the deeply disturbing attributes of our societal direction can be seen in the reduction of people to their utility. People are judged only by their output, for how they benefit society, instead of having value in their own right. This utilitarian view of man deprives him of his humanity. At its end, it leads to the termination of life itself, whether through the abortion of those thought to have disabilities or through killing the sick, the handicapped, and the elderly.
When people are judged by their output, we have misunderstood the unique value of human life. John Paul II hoped that improved acknowledgment of women and their increased voices in public dialogue would result in a more compassionate view of humanity and would quell the utilitarian direction. Sadly, that did not happen.
Today, female uniqueness is at the point of least acknowledgment. Women can bear children and become mothers. Somehow, this obvious source of distinction from men is almost never mentioned in the celebrations and awards. One would think it were a source of shame. Bearing children is usually mentioned only as a burden, sometimes overcome in the pursuit of a career. Actress Michelle Williams said as much when accepting her Golden Globes award, which she exclaimed wouldn’t have been possible “without employing a woman’s right to choose.”
The audience applauded what should have been a somber moment. We have a culture that hails women for acts of violence against themselves and their children in pursuit of money and fame.
Females with unique stories and personalities protrude through the history that modernity overlooks. Women like St. Zélie Martin, St. Emilia, Martha and Mary from the Gospels, and St. Joan of Arc all had their own distinctive battles, and they were eminently feminine.
We might wish to ask why calls to honor women don’t include a condemnation of all of the ways in which female dignity is routinely assaulted. John Paul II continued:
Nor can we fail, in the name of the respect due to the human person, to condemn the widespread hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality and corrupts even very young girls into letting their bodies be used for profit.
The media to exploit vulnerable young girls with false promises have only increased in number and notoriety. Some of the most visited websites of our age degrade women, separate sexual acts from marriage and fertility, erode self-worth, destroy lives, and harm all who find them. They represent an assault on the human person.
A true celebration of female accomplishment might include an acknowledgment of those women who bore children conceived in violent circumstances, and who demonstrated love and compassion in the most trying of situations. That heroic act is a unique expression of feminine potential and warmth. Instead, our self-indulgent society immerses itself in the encouragement of abortion, proclaiming virtue in the termination of such children instead of recognizing the value in the children being terminated.
Attempting to sever women from their procreative nature is a failure to accept them in their totality. The bulk of alleged women’s celebration events do this. So does the societal encouragement of contraceptives—through which a woman is reduced, from being treated as a loved child of God in her whole being (including her fertility), to a commodity for someone’s pleasure. This is precisely what Pope Paul VI predicted in his famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae, and it has come to pass. We cannot simultaneously celebrate women and deny their sex-specific attributes. Doing so denies a part of them and thus deprives them of the dignity they deserve.
A natural consequence of the attempt to separate women from their fertility is the modern difficulty in defining women at all. It is from this eroded foundation that transgender acceptance was born, wherein the culture accepts men as women if they claim to be so. Now men even accept prizes meant for distinguished women, in a mockery of female identity and dignity. On television, Drew Barrymore recently kneeled before Dylan Mulvany and affirmed him as a woman, which was met with applause. In so doing, she denied the distinctions between the sexes, and thus implied that there is nothing notable about women at all. If you erase the differences between men and women through a societal rejection of what makes women women, then a society of people acting genderless is almost a surety.
The culture sneers at the Catholic Church for having sex-specific roles therewithin. Some vocations are not open to women. In keeping these separations, the Church recognizes the differences between the sexes and doesn’t eviscerate the feminine, as the world does. Women are not better by giving up all that they are and pretending to be men. Women have their own unique value and gifts.
May we pay homage to womanhood by embracing the true feminine, by celebrating motherhood, and by lauding female dignity. Women need not be hardened and fierce, as Hollywood portrays them, to be heroes. They can display compassion, love, and sacrifice in uniquely feminine ways, as ideally demonstrated by the Virgin Mary. Women who embrace feminine, modest attire are the heroes whom girls can look up to, in rejection of a world that would reduce them to sexual objects. Women were made to combine with men, not to replace them, and our society needs both, just as our families do.